THE BLOG
11/24/2014 11:49 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2015

Do We Need Human Rights?

"If we equate freedom with choice, then we lose our ability to recognise that which actually enslaves us, and our choice-making both confirms and deepens our bondage, regardless of what we choose." - Jean Baudrillard

For many Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an important distinction in what makes up a human right. As long as most have a roof over their head, food, and water and etc. then their basic human rights are fulfilled. However, my claim in this post is that Maslow was a bit shortsighted in his sociological assessment, he was too universal, and forgot another element in the human story -- the element of evolutionary desire. What about those who don't want to live in some typical brick-and-mortar house? What about those who desire a baser existence? This post will explore the hidden ideology behind the current state of human rights and why we might need an alternative framework as we move into a post-human era. Let's be honest, if rights-based thinking was as good as it promised, would we be where we are today?

These statistics demonstrate the failure of an ideology that purports to make the world better:

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they "die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world". Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one percent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn't happen. The arms trade is a major cause of human rights abuses. Some governments spend more on military expenditure than on social development, communications infrastructure and health combined.

What the idea of human rights does is setup a barrier between those who have rights, and those who don't. One group is privileged and the other is not. To put this in a clearer context, let's talk about the most ubiquitous object that defines how we all live -- capital. If it is my right to have money, than without even intending to, we have already set up a dichotomy, where there will be people who don't have money or don't have the right to have money. Whether it be down to their lifestyle choice, whether they are in prison where their money is limited, or the homeless or those in underdeveloped countries.

Even the phrase "underdeveloped countries" implies that there is a lack that exists 'there', but not 'here'. We then put ourselves in the privileged position of defining what underdeveloped even means. Since we are exploring the idea of money and how it relates to rights-based thinking, this also leads to the right to protect that money from others, from governments, from family, from taxing and so on. If someone were to come into your house and steal your money and you were able to stop them, would you? So now, we have an ethical dimension to protecting our right to have that money -- at all costs.

Isn't rights-based thinking not only naive, but also based on consumerist thinking? Meaning, that we want that commodity (the right to bear arms, for example) over there because we have been made to desire it, so we do all we can to acquire it. We want that new Iron Man T-shirt because it projects a sort of image that we ourselves either agree with or desire to project to others. How is this not the same with the current notion of human rights? I want my right to free speech because it's over there, and when I have it, then I can acquire the image of what I think it means to be human, or how I want to present myself to others? So we picket, shout, and form organizations around these subjects.

But if we are already in the territory of defining what it means to be human, are we even human at all? That's the irony we are investigating here. Human rights themselves set up an image of what it looks to be human, an image that goes before us, and that we chase, like a form of consumerism. It's not that we have them, it's that we must fight for them, even at the risk of someone else losing their lives for my rights. Hence why war is such an important necessity in this way of thinking, because, we must fight to maintain the boundaries we create around us.

The very fact that we need human rights is itself indicative of the times we live. We have to protect ourselves from one another. Rape victims. Racism. Bigotry. Homophobia. Religious Extremism. What if these have emerged because how we have come to address the notion of human rights? We now identify ourselves with what we own, which essentially owns us. We have privatized everything, from justice (i.e. courtrooms and prisons) to entertainment (i.e., television, Netflix, pornography), from relationships (i.e., family, marriage, friendships) to politics (i.e., local, regional, national, partisan). This is not to demonize these things, but to show how, if taken too far, rights-based thinking cares more about the individual (on a personal/self and corporate level -- local society and nationalism -- than the whole/humanity). Doh! We are already there. We need to change things.

If we address the world issues (including non-human entities) through a different perspective, such as the notion of responsibility, mutual reciprocity, and compassion than why would human rights even need to exist? If I take care of you, and you take care of the next person, and so on, then we reduce the need to fight for our rights, but stand in opposition of the privatization of the self, and embrace a new way to be human. We see this very practice in our human origins. In tribal communities. Where power was horizontal. Where identity wasn't equated with property like it is today (i.e., I have a right to have what I work for). But as author Brent James Schmidt: "The ideal of contributing all personal property to the community formed the essential criterion for membership in each ancient community."

There is this greek notion of love referred to as agape, the underlying implication is that we all come to the end of ourselves, the end of our egos, and in doing so, we find that our ego is found in the other. Is this not what responsibility implies? That each care for the other in the name of a more global community.